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Brooklyn Principal Takes 'Racist' Dig at Spanish Speakers, Parents Say

By Amy Zimmer | November 5, 2014 4:04pm
 Brooklyn School of Inquiry principal Donna Taylor shocked parents during a tour of an open house over the weekend.
Brooklyn School of Inquiry principal Donna Taylor shocked parents during a tour of an open house over the weekend.
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BROOKLYN — The principal of the highly selective Brooklyn School of Inquiry stunned parents who attended a middle school open house this week by making racist comments disparaging Spanish-speaking people, families said.

At Tuesday morning's open house at the Bensonhurst school, Principal Donna Taylor shocked an auditorium full of dozens of prospective 10-year-old students and their parents with her explanation of why kids need to learn to speak the foreign language.

"In New York City, if you don’t speak Spanish, you’re going to clean your own house," Taylor said,  according to Jose Orbegozo, a Park Slope dad and producer of a television show highlighting the accomplishments of New York City Latinos, who wrote a scathing note to Department of Education Chancellor Carmen Fariña in the wake of the tour.

"The message I took away was clear from the principal’s statements: Brooklyn School of Inquiry is an elitist and discriminatory school, led by an insensitive principal," wrote Orbegozo, who was among several parents who fired off angry missives to the DOE.

A native of Colombia, who is raising his children as bilingual English and Spanish speakers, Orbegozo told DNAinfo that Taylor's remarks were "awful, offensive and really upsetting."

"You cannot address an audience of 10-year-old kids and their parents and make irresponsible and racist comments," he added. "She is a public employee, the leader of a school, and she should be held accountable."

Orbegozo, who had been greatly impressed by the school tour before the principal's speech, was so confounded by the comment that he wrote it down on the open house's flier to try to make sense of what the principal was trying to say.

Rory Bernstein, a Park Slope mom and web developer, also wrote down the comment down because she was so "shocked," she said.

"It sounded like she was saying, 'We are training you to be this elite cadre who will lord over Spanish-speaking people one day," Bernstein said.

"The principal started out talking about how she wanted Spanish classes and how she studied the language herself starting in seventh grade, Bernstein added. "Then she let this bomb drop."

Bernstein said she chose not to file a formal complaint with the Department of Education, adding, "I'm sure she's not this one comment."

Parents said Taylor also made a number of other troubling comments, including a remark about BSI's racial breakdown.

She referred to her gifted and talented program as "the whitest school in New York City," explaining that 5 percent of students are black, 5 percent are Latino, 17 percent are Asian and 73 percent are white, parents said.

Parents at the open house were also concerned that Taylor said families of accepted students would be expected to contribute $1,500 a year to maintain the school's enrichment programs — and that the corporations they work for often contribute matching funds.

BSI, a selective school that takes students from across the city, was recently featured in a story by DNAinfo as the city's most difficult middle school to get into, with an acceptance rate of just 2 percent.

Taylor sent an email to current parents at the school on Wednesday afternoon apologizing for her comments.

“Yesterday at an open house, I made statements, the nature of which was misunderstood, and some attendees were offended," Taylor wrote in the email, which was shared with DNAinfo.

"Diversity is an issue that is near and dear to me, and I deeply regret my poor choice of words."

The school's current parents came to Taylor's defense.

"BSI parents and especially the children adore Donna because she is so present and unguarded," said David Cantor, a communications consultant whose daughter is in sixth grade there.

"She and her team have been banging their heads for years wishing there was a way to come up with a way to build more diversity in the school."

DOE spokeswoman Devora Kaye released a statement saying, "The principal used very poor judgment in her choice of words and she has apologized to the school community."

Kaye added, “We value the diversity of our students and we are committed to equity, access, and opportunity for all students—regardless of race, ethnicity, immigration status, neighborhood, or economic status."